WELCOME TO OUR SITE
Jeremy Lee Riley
Beyond the reach of human range. A drop of hell, a touch of strange...
A BRIEF HISTORY OF IRVINGTON
It is easy to see how Irvington achieved its status as a place where the living and the dead co-exist on a nearly day to day/night by night basis. As you walk the winding, almost maze-like streets you find yourself surrounded by restored structures that date back as far as the 1820's. The land on which this quaint, quiet hamlet sits was originally occupied by Native Americans who were given the boot (and far worse) when the first white settlers arrived. Irvington was founded atop the sacred burial ground of these noble and rightful owners and some attribute this as the cause of some if not all of the unnatural acts that occur so frequently in the tiny community. Others lay the blame on ley lines, those intersecting tracks of land that theoretically host extraordinary phenomena.
Whatever the cause there is no denying that Irvington is a magnet for strange occurrences, historical acts, and dark happenings. President Lincoln's death train chugged right through the township in 1865; congressman and contemporary of Lincoln's, George Julian, built an imposing (and, yes, reputedly haunted) mansion right across the street from where this present-day author lives; America's first serial killer, H.H. Holmes, took up residence here and murdered a small boy before authorities finally caught up with him, and during the roaring twenties the Free Mason's, with the aid of Klan funding, built an impressive Masonic Lodge with the appropriate lodge number 666 on a granite carving above the door.
However, as impressive as all of this is, the one spot in Irvington that has reported the most spiritual activity is the South Irving Circle.
THE CIRCLE AND ITS GHOSTS
If you were to walk south down Audubon Avenue you would pass the old Irvington railroad track where Lincoln's ghost train still glides by on cool April nights despite the fact that the tracks are long gone and an alley now stands in its place. About half a block on the otherside sits South Irving Circle. The Circle is the smallest park in Indianapolis, which is encircled by a road that branches off in four directions, north, south, east and west. Some of the oldest houses in Irvington are located here, each with its own tale waiting to be unearthed, secrets waiting to be unlocked, and confessions waiting to be told.
A beautifully sculpted fountain stands in the center of the park, surrounded by three benches that look as if they've been transported straight from the Victorian era. A bust of Washington Irving greets you as you approach, its lifeless eyes having born witness to who knows what unnatural activity over the years. Even in the daytime there is something a little off about the place despite its beauty. There is an electrical charge in the air, a feeling almost as if you are intruding on consecrated ground. You feel eyes on you, and even though you look around at the houses and see no one watching you can't shake the feeling.
There are three ghost reputed to dwell within this sacred circle. The first is a nineteenth century gentleman dressed in a fine suit and top hat who enjoys appearing in front of motorist, causing them to swerve out of control at the last second and wreck their vehicles. The second has been described as a flower child from the early 1960's who took his own life where the current fountain now stands. They say a pistol shot can be heard on certain nights when young couples are nearing the peak of heavy petting.
The third ghost is described as a woman dressed entirely in white who has been seen walking from east to west along University Avenue, weeping into a handkerchief. More than a few local historians claim that this is the spirit of Madge Oberholtzer, a school teacher and advocate in an Indiana state policy to combat illiteracy, who, on March 15th, 1925, was kidnapped, raped and tortured by a megalomaniac and local Grand Dragon of the Klu Klux Klan named D.C. Stephenson. When she attempted to commit suicide rather than endure another night of abuse Stephenson had one of his henchmen carry her six blocks from his mansion on University to her parents home on the corner of Dewey Avenue where she was staying at the time to help pay off the sumptuous, two-story house's heavy mortgage.
Though Stephenson had phoned ahead with a phony excuse to get the parents out of the house long enough to drop off the dying woman a tenant who had rented one of the rooms confronted the henchman and asked what had befallen the Oberholtzers daughter. The man attempted to hide his face and said she had been in a car wreck. Madge still had enough wits about her to exclaim, "He lies!"
The henchman forced his way upstairs, deposited Madge on her bed and left. Madge died on April 14th, but not before giving a deathbed confession of the events that led to her untimely demise. Madge had been bitten all over her body, one nipple had been chewed off, and her gentiles were badly mutilated. The family doctor said she looked as if she'd been 'attacked by a pack of wolves'. He attributed the cause of death to infection and kidney failure.
Stephenson was arrested for the sadistic crime, convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. He was paroled in 1950 and died in Jonesborough, Tennessee, in 1966. The only good thing to come out of this event was that its national coverage brought to an end the second wave of Klan activity in Indiana.
It is said the ghost of Madge Oberholtzer reenacts her fateful stroll from her home to the towering Stephenson mansion and back again night after night. She never speaks to anyone and if she is confronted she simply vanishes into thin air.
Since this paranormal activity is supposedly taking place right down the street from our house Jesse and I decided to make it our first stop on our hunt for the strange and unexplained. This is the perfect opportunity to experiment and see what works for us and what doesn't--to cut our teeth, in other words. The following are my journal entries of each night in question, which will be followed by pictures of what appear to be ghostly orbs with commentary by both Jesse and myself.
JEREMY'S JOURNAL ENTRIES...
#1: Wednesday, January 11th, 2006, 12:00 a.m.
Jesse and I took pictures of the George Julian mansion across the street from our house in the hopes of capturing a ghostly orb (or two) on film. We also brought our camcorder but it proved too dark to obtain any useful footage. We then walked a block down to the Irving circle. Once again it was too dark for the camcorder but we got some good still pictures with Jesse's digital camera before it died on us. We walked the circle and tried to get a feel for the place, but an unusual amount of traffic, including one police car who slowed down to see what we were up to, made any work we hoped to accomplish impossible. We called it an early night and returned home. Jesse downloaded the pictures onto the computer and we hunkered down to see what we'd gotten.
The Julian mansion pictures proved a bust but to our surprise we found one picture of the Circle's fountain with several 'orbs' floating around it. Most likely these are simply dust particles reflecting light from the camera's flash but it was interesting nevertheless to have captured even that on our first outing. Oddly, the orbs appear most prominently in that one picture, and one orb in particular stands out from the others. It is in the upper left hand of the picture, floating just above the fountain. It is perfectly round and is giving off more light then seems possible to be a simple dust particle reflecting a camera flash. It should also be noted that we took the pictures in between traffic, so the possibility of it being the reflection of a car's headlights is squarely ruled out.
Jesse and I have agreed to go out again tomorrow night and see if we can capture the same mysterious orb by the fountain. We're also going to ask our colleague, Dar, if we can borrow his camcorder, which has night vision. I have also decided to buy a mini tape-recorder in the hopes of picking up the voice of Madge Oberholtzer or any other spirits that may dwell within the circle. It should prove an interesting night.
#2: Thursday, January 12th, 2006, 12:00 a.m.
We ran into Dar at the gym around 11:30 this morning. Jesse and I asked him if we could use his camcorder and he said he would bring it over so long as he could join us in our investigation. We said the more the merrier but I warned him that we would be heading out at precisely midnight. I asked him if that would be a problem because I knew he had to get up early for work. He said that was fine. We said we'd see him later that night and proceeded to Best Buy where I purchased a digital recorder with a gift card I had received for Christmas.
By the time midnight rolled around Dar was a no-show, which I pretty much suspected he would be. I understand that it was most likely because he had to work in the morning but the least he could've done was call us and let us know. Jesse told me that earlier in the day he had told his girlfriend, who claims to be sensitive to the presence of ghosts, what we were doing and asked her to drive around the circle and see if she sensed anything out of the ordinary.
Without knowing anything about the area's history she left and returned shortly, proclaiming that she had a bad feeling about the west end of the circle. When Jesse related this to me I was impressed seeing as how the west end of University Avenue leads to the dreaded Stephenson mansion, and is the path Madge Oberholtzer took on the night of her kidnapping and eventual murder at the Old Man's hands.
Jesse and I took this as a good sign and made our way to the circle with all due haste. I turned on the recorder once we arrived and asked if there was anyone there who would like to speak with us, that we meant them no harm and we were genuinely interested in what they had to say. All I got for my troubles was Jesse letting out a curse because the camera died on him (the same as last night). Also, once again there were people around even though it was the middle of the night. I was beginning to wonder how the ghosts were able to get about with all of this traffic moving back and forth. We decided to return to the house and exchange the batteries in the camera for another pair, but that too died on us the moment we returned to the circle.
We walked around with the recorder on, hoping to capture a voice or a sound at the very least, but two low flying airplanes, one nearly on top of the other, kicked up too much racket so we said to hell with it, went to the local Village Pantry, bought fresh batteries and returned to the circle for the third time that night.
Jesse told me that if the camera died on him this time then he was going to be pretty freaked out. However, the camera worked fine this go-around and we were able to salvage something from the evening. Jesse downloaded the pictures onto the computer as soon as we were home and this time we were rewarded with two pictures with those mysterious orbs floating in them (or dust particles, take your pick, true believers). The first one is once again floating alongside the fountain, only this time it is larger, as if the orb is growing accustomed to our presence and is coming closer to investigate (or a particle of dust just happened to be closer to us than before).
The object in the second picture is by no means a dust particle, it is too bright. Jesse captured this one within the trees when he was taking pictures of the dreaded west end. The logical part of me is convinced it is the moon but Jesse assures me the moon was lost in the clouds that night and even if we could see it it wouldn't have been in that position at that particular time of the evening. The light is also too small to be the moon and too large to be a star. It isn't coming from a plane or a nearby lamp post or a house light. So, if it isn't the moon then what is it?
I played back the recording to no avail. If spirits do walk the old Irving Circle then they aren't much in the way of conversation.
#3: Friday, January 13th, 2006, 12:00 a.m.
Jesse was at work tonight (the graveyard shift) so I went down to the circle alone. I brought the camera with me but realized once I got there that its disc was full. I Didn't want to erase the pictures without first asking Jesse if he was finished with them so I decided to walk University Avenue from the Oberholtzer house to the Stephenson mansion, just to retrace the path that Madge Oberholtzer had taken over seventy years earlier.
The strangest thing was that I was feeling fine up to the point when I actually laid eyes on the mansion and the Carriage House which sat behind it (this is the building where Madge was held prisoner and, strangely enough, some decades later a double homicide would occur here as well). Suddenly my stomach tied itself into a knot and this near uncontainable rage filled me. The reality of it all hit home. This wasn't just something I had read in a book, here was the actual proof right before my eyes. A murderer had lived here. A murderer who had ended the life of a sweet, innocent young woman simply because he felt he could. I wanted to jump the white picket fence surrounding the property and pull it down brick by brick. It was an evil house, that much I could sense. Bad things had happened here. Bad things to good people. Madge being foremost among them.
I cannot explain why I felt this way. A century (hell, a millennium) had passed since Madge's untimely death. I never knew her or Stephenson, yet I wanted nothing more at that moment than to travel back in time long enough to shield the young lady from that fiend, to wrap my fingers around his fat throat and choke the life out of him before I would allow him to lay so much as a finger on her. I felt all of this burning inside of me for a moment and then I saw the Bona Thompson Library no more than half a block up the street and my emotions did a startling about-face.
During my research into the community I had read where the library had been built by the bereaved parents of Bona Thompson, a young woman who died of typhoid fever in 1899. Interestingly, the Bona isn't considered haunted, but they say the place has a 'safe feeling' about it, almost as if it is a sanctuary. And indeed, a feeling of peace began to work its way through my rage the closer I got to the building, and, subsequently, away from the Stephenson mansion.
I had read that a portrait of Bona Thompson hung in the lobby of the building and that you could see it if you peered through the library doors. All at once I knew I had to see that portrait, it was almost as if my very life depended on it. I hurried up the steps and peered frantically through the window, at first unable to find the portrait. My heart skipped a beat. Had I been lied too or had the picture been taken down? I--and there it was to my right, hanging over the receptionists desk. A portrait of a young woman with a full, round face, dark hair pulled up into a bun, and a coy little smile playing at the corners of her mouth. Looking at her I felt a calm wash over me. Yes, this was a sanctuary. All at once I believed totally and unconditionally in ghosts, and here was a good one, a soothing spirit. One of hope and white light.
Turning around my gaze fell once more on the Stephenson mansion, basked in the shadows of the night, as dark and soulless as its late owner. I saw that I had two choices. I could walk home opposite the old mansion or I could walk right past the front of it, close enough to touch the picket fence if I wanted to. But did I dare? A small voice cried from the back of my mind, Don't do it! Do you really want to get that close to the place?
I grinned and muttered under my breath, "Watch me," and began down the sidewalk in front of the mansion.
I could almost picture the bastard peering through one of the dark, vacant windows or stepping out the front door on his way to some Klan rally. I could almost see his henchman walking down the street in front of me, Madge's bruised and mutilated form draped over his shoulder. As I passed the mansion a strong wind suddenly picked up, whistling through the tree branches and blowing dead leaves through the yard. I barked a short laugh and kept on walking. I wouldn't have been afraid of that fat bastard if I'd seen him in life and I be damned if I was going to let him get to me in death. When I finally reached my house my first impulse was to go to the bathroom and run my hands through the cold water in the sink. For some reason this felt like a symbolic act, as if I was cleansing my spirit after what I had just experienced.
Don't think I'll go near that mansion again by myself.
#4: Saturday, January 14th, 2006, 12:00 a.m.
It wasn't long after I walked brazenly past the Stephenson mansion that a big storm kicked up and has continued into the next evening. The wind is really pounding at the doors and windows. Won't be able to go out tonight, maybe its for the best. Give the spirits time to simmer down.#5: Tuesday, January 17th, 2006, 12:00 a.m.
JESSE: I'm sure. I'm so sure it's not the moon. I am absolutely sure it's not. Because, for one, the moon was in a different location, it was over to the right of us.
JEREMY: It was overcast that night too.
JESSE: Well, it wasn't totally overcast. I mean, the moon was obscured by some clouds, but...I thought it might be a star...
JEREMY: But stars aren't that large in the sky.
JESSE: Yeah, or that bright.
JEREMY: (Laughs) If a star's that bright, we're in trouble.
JESSE: It's not a street light either; it's too far up...
JEREMY: It looks like it's on the tree branch. What I'm saying is it can't be the moon if the branch is behind it. See, if you look closely it looks like the branch is jutting out from behind it there.
JESSE: Like it's (the orb) is gliding through the tree branches?
JEREMY: Uh huh.
JESSE: I agree.
JEREMY: Were there any cars passing through at that time?
JESSE:No. And even if they were there's no way their reflection could be that bright. I can't see that happening. It looks like the moon, but it's not the moon.
PIC FOUR: THE STEPHENSON MANSION
JESSE: The thing is that when we walked past it we both got this feeling of anger and grief, but when I look at the picture now I don't get that feeling.
JEREMY: No, I just have this dirty feeling, like I stepped in a mud puddle and need to wipe my feet off.
JESSE: It is very difinitive, there is something seriously wrong with that house.
JEREMY: I agree.
JESSE: There's an energy pouring out of it that I've never felt around the other houses.
JEREMY: A negative energy.
JESSE: Oh yeah. What I felt when I saw it was grief. Actually, what I mean to say is that when I saw the house I was like 'Man, I just want to burn that thing to the ground'. But when I saw the Carriage House I just stopped in my tracks as this feeling of grief washed over me. I kind of knew the history of the place, which might have influenced the way I was feeling, but it wasn't my grief, you know?
JEREMY: You had a feeling that something bad had happened there. You felt it radiating out of the place.
JESSE: It felt like somebody was dumping their emotions on me. It wasn't my grief. It felt like somebody was channeling it through me.
JEREMY: And the lights around the house. What I mean is that if they were dust particles wouldn't they be bigger and rounder, basically more orb-like. And wouldn't we be able to see through them like the Irving Circle orbs?
JESSE: Yeah, well, the thing is, look at the middle of it...
JEREMY: Each light looks like it has a cross in it.
JESSE: Yes, and this one up here (on the upper branch of the right side of the picture), that's a dust particle. See how it looks nothing like the other lights? There's no way these others are dust particles.
JEREMY: I get such a strange feeling around that mansion...around that area.
JESSE: That area isn't right. Hey, I was thinking, the Applegate house is right down the street from the mansion...I'm just theorizing here, you know, tossing out ideas...we agree that the famous picture of the ghost in the Applegate house's window looks like a skull, right?
JEREMY: Looks like. I think it's just the reflection of the trees in the window.
JESSE: But...and once again, I'm just theorizing here...but the ghost looks like its facing the Stephenson mansion. Maybe somebody in that house saw something they weren't supposed to see. It's just an idea, I'm not saying it has any basis in fact.
JEREMY: Can you see the Stephenson mansion from there?
JESSE: I don't know. Maybe. We'll have to go down there and...
JEREMY: No, the Applegate house is too far down the street from the mansion.
JESSE: But keep in mind that in the twenties the area looked a lot different.
JEREMY: Yeah, but also keep in mind that the Butler campus was there at the time too. From where the Applegate house sits, the campus would've been in the way, I seriously doubt you could see much from there.
JESSE: Of all the houses we've visited in Irvington the Stephenson mansion is the one where I get the most feeling of dread coming off of it. That and the Applegate house. Both of them are in that University area.
JEREMY: Yeah, but so is the Bona Library, and neither of us got a bad vibe from that place. Quite the opposite, actually.
JESSE: Oh yeah, you get nothing but a feeling of calm around that place., but the rest of the street from the west end of the Circle up is eerie to say the least.
JEREMY: There's a thickness in the air when you walk down the street.
JESSE: Yeah, I would say that if I was a full blown ghost hunter and I was trying to prove the existence of ghosts I would go to the Stephenson mansion, because there is something really wrong with that place.
WRAPPING IT UP...
JEREMY: Here we are at the end of our first post. As you can see we still need to hone our skills but that's what I like about this blog, we're learning as we go and we're recording it for all to see. What I got most from this exploration into the Irvington area was that University Avenue appears to contain the most supernatural activity, with the Stephenson mansion standing at the heart of it all. Jesse and I are far from through with the area but that's a post for another day. Until then I leave you with this thought: Just how well do you know your own neighborhood's history, indeed the very home you're living in, or the ground upon which it sits? Noodle that while you lay in bed tonight with the lights on to keep the darkness at bay.
Jeremy Lee Riley
January 17th, 2006